Farm technology: better for the back pocket and our backyard

Cane farmer Graeme Blackburn.

Fertiliser, chemical, fuel and power. These four costs are combining to seriously compromise Queensland cane farmers.

In light of this, a group of growers are moving towards what they hope will be a more efficient future; one that utilises technology to help their local area, as well as farmers’ back pockets.

In Mackay and the Whitsunday region, 244 growers, farming 35,587 hectares of cane, are taking steps toward change, particularly nutrient and herbicide management.

“The days of putting on too much fertiliser are long gone. It’s very expensive if you don’t get the tonnes per hectare,” said Graeme Blackburn, a cane farmer based in Mirani.

This year Graeme harvested 90,000 tonnes and is now looking ahead to see where cost and environmental savings can be made.

“For me it’s the future. We want to grow the cane as efficiently as we can and remain viable,” he said. “This means making hectares work smarter and making the most of technological advances.”

Graeme worked with Reef Catchments to purchase a three-row bed renovator. The renovator transforms crop zones with narrow rows into modern, controlled traffic farms with wide rows.

Graeme’s three-row Hodge bed renovator.

“The bed renovator allows Graeme to convert old ratoons and widen 1.5 metre rows to 1.8 metre rows” Reef Catchments sustainable agriculture officer Ian Brooks said. “Wider rows and GPS controlled traffic farming systems are incredibly important to improving the production and water quality to the Great Barrier Reef across the state.”

Graeme has quickly seen major benefits from the renovator.

“With this equipment we can do up to 28 to 30 hectares a day, double to capacity of a tractor with the same horsepower,” he said. “It uses less fuel to the hectare and we’re going twice as wide as what we’d normally do.”

Cane farming has undergone big changes over the years, but it has taken time.

“Our next big project will be a soybean fallow crop, put in on beds made by the renovator,” Graeme said. “We’re hoping this system will help improve soil nutrition, put more organic matter into the ground and in time, lead to better crops.”

Graeme said you can start small to make the most of new technological ideas.

“Even before we purchased the renovator I started with a one-row system that was homemade.

Graeme is part of the wider Reef Trust program in Mackay and surrounds. The program enables farm extension officers to work with local growers to improve nutrient and herbicide management and make the most of technological advances. Through Reef Trust, more than $800,000 has been distributed to help hundreds farmers.

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